Some years ago I did a couple gigs speaking to groups of prospective and published authors under the auspices of an agent friend of mine. And in every session I was shocked (seriously—shocked!) to learn that most of these people expected their relationship with their editor to be an adversarial one.
That is so not what I want.
Yes, I am a paid critic. But I’m a friendly one. I want every book I work on to be the very best it can be. There are ulterior motives for this, of course; if the book does well, the publisher will ask me to edit another one. If the book does well, the author will ask to work with me again. If the book does well, other authors will think I’ll have what she’s having and ask to work with me too.
Aside from career/financial considerations, though, I’m talking about the emotional considerations. About the joy I take in the job. And there is no joy, my friends, on a battlefield. So I work very hard to make my work both professional and cordial … and I try to share the delight I find in it.
Ninety-five percent of my job is delivering what amounts to “extreme criticism”—and I have to do it in a way that makes the recipient glad to have it.* Some days I succeed better than others, but I’m dead serious when I say I do not want that adversarial relationship you think you’re expecting. (Remember this? Read it again. No, really. I’ll wait.)
What I want is for us to be a team. From the moment I learn we’ll be working together, I consider myself on yours. And I bring more than a decade’s worth of hands-on editing experience (and a lifetime of purposeful reading) with me. When we begin the work, I’m a cheerleader, confidante, consultant, teacher, writing partner, wordsmith … I’m not going to blow smoke up your skirt and I’m not going to sugarcoat, but I’ll be professional and nice. And if I can get you to delight in the work we do together, so much the better.
Which means I need you to be on my team too. I need you to treat me like your partner. I need you to trust I have your best interests at heart. I need you to remember I have experience doing this work. I need you to have an open mind (and heart) about our project.
In other words, don’t kill the messenger, kids. Please. And I’ll be pathetically grateful if you don’t leave that snippy comment in the margin.
Your publisher hired me to work with you. I truly want to make you happy, but I’ll keep pushing if I think the manuscript needs more work. Because when push comes to shove, my loyalty is to that publisher (who will sign my check) and to the book itself.
I love my work. I take pride in it. I hope your book does well, because in small part, it reflects on me. My name isn’t on the cover but my fingerprints are.
* As you might guess, independent authors, who are paying me themselves, are a lot more interested in having a smooth working relationship.
Tweet: My name isn’t on the cover but my fingerprints are.
Tweet: I take a lot of joy in my job. But there is no joy, my friends, on a battlefield.
Tweet: I must deliver criticism & do it in a way that makes the recipient glad to have it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”